Thursday, May 20, 2010

Comics Review: LITTLE LULU, VOLUME 23: THE BOGEY SNOWMAN AND OTHER STORIES (Dark Horse Books, 2010)

Homework Assignment: Before reading this entry, please read this posting by Joe Torcivia. You'll thank me in a minute.


In reading this collection of stories from LITTLE LULU #112-117 (October 1957 - March 1958), one can definitely sense John Stanley suffering an attack of the "chafes." Stanley was still a couple of years away from abandoning the title for good, but a certain restlessness is evinced by his busting out of the long-established "mold" in one or two places. Stanley busts the string of "poor little girl" story-telling stories with a vengeance in #117's "Bedtime Story," in which little Alvin insists upon telling Lulu a story for once. Not surprisingly, Alvin comes off as the "hero" and Lulu as a fallible sidekick. Witch Hazel appears at the end, but only for a bit of self-referencing humor as she wonders why Lulu isn't in control of the story. The tale has more of the feel of a FRACTURED FAIRY TALE than do most of the increasingly mechanical "story-telling" exercises than had immediately preceded it.

Alvin's seizure of the controls in "Bedtime Story" pales in comparison with the preceding issue's "The Secret Girl Friend." Here, Stanley takes his apparent mental inquietude into a whole weird new area. Lulu becomes convinced that Tubby has bought her a beautiful Valentine with the message "To My Secret Sweetheart." After working herself into a state of mild hysteria, Lulu is crushed when Tubby's gift proves to be nothing more than a simple, "generic" card. The heartbroken Lulu plots revenge until she visits Tubby's house and... learns that Tubby's "secret sweetheart" is his MOTHER.

Now you know why I wanted to "soften you up" with that creepy BUGS BUNNY story. Stanley's version, however, is, if anything, even creepier. Lula Belle is, after all, a teenager, whereas Tubby is a LITTLE BOY. Sufferin' Sophocles! The implications are staggering. Even if you regard "sweetheart" as a more neutral term of endearment than "girl friend," there's still Stanley's choice of a story title to consider. A scenario like this is even stranger coming from a well-established, generally "well-behaved" writer like Stanley than from some anonymous scrivener who took on the BUGS job as only one assignment among many. It leads me to believe that Stanley was beginning to "mentally check out" of the LULU "universe" long before he actually did so.

3 comments:

Mark Arnold said...

"mentally check out"...

Sounds familiar (re: me and THFT!)

-Mark.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I’m not certain the Lulu tale is quite as appalling as the Bugs one. For a little boy to have great affection for his mother doesn’t seem quite the same as a teenage / young adult female to be giving such “gifts” to her father… especially when there’s no visible or previously established evidence of an otherwise healthy and “normal” family situation.

Whatever their faults, the Tompkins Family does have some established reputation of normalcy. Tubby is also not considered to be “of age”, as Lula Belle might be – or (even worse) might NOT QUITE be! The implications, especially when viewed through a 21st Century lens, seem much more serious in the Bugs story.

By your description, it sounds as if Stanley tried to accomplish the same thing as the anonymous Bugs writer did, and came closer to succeeding… or at least failed to miss in such a devastating way. Perhaps, this is just an idea that is best left alone – at least when a young person’s relationship with a parent is concerned.

Oh, and thanks! My writings have never been assigned as “homework” before – and by an honest to goodness college professor, to boot! Consider me suitably honored!

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"For a little boy to have great affection for his mother doesn’t seem quite the same as a teenage / young adult female to be giving such “gifts” to her father… especially when there’s no visible or previously established evidence of an otherwise healthy and “normal” family situation. Whatever their faults, the Tompkins Family does have some established reputation of normalcy."

I agree that there's a difference between a "one-off" character and a continuing character doing such a thing. But you have to admit, it's strange that Stanley suddenly went down this path long AFTER having established the "normalcy" of the Tompkins clan. Was he simply not paying attention? That would tend to support my idea that he was losing a bit of interest in the characters by that time.

Actually, I think that the editor is more to blame in this case than in the BUGS one. The fact that Stanley titled the story "The Secret Girl Friend" and GOT AWAY WITH IT really surprised me. The BUGS story didn't have a title and (as you pointed out) followed familiar Christmas-story traditions until almost the end. Wouldn't a vigilant editor have whistled Stanley for "encroachment" upon a very questionable territory?

"Perhaps, this is just an idea that is best left alone – at least when a young person’s relationship with a parent is concerned."

Yes, there HAVE to be better ways to get the basic point across. How about simply saying "To My Secret Valentine."

Chris